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New owners bring Choctaw back to pilgrimage lineup

BEN HILLYER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — David Garner and R. Lee Glover have brought the antebellum house Choctaw back to life. The house on Wall Street is filled with furnishing of the time period.

BEN HILLYER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — David Garner and R. Lee Glover have brought the antebellum house Choctaw back to life. The house on Wall Street is filled with furnishing of the time period.

Sitting atop a raised basement, Choctaw Hall stands tall on North Wall Street.

And after climbing its mirrored staircase, which frames stately Roman columns, the grandeur continues inside where rooms lavishly display generations’ worth of custom-made curtains, table settings, artwork and more.

Some might say the mansion is over the top.

David Garner says it’s just Southern.

“My great-grandfather said in his diary that a room should be correctly appointed — never decorated,” said Garner, who purchased Choctaw with his business partner R. Lee Glover in March 2014. “It’s the Southern way.”

Since Garner moved to Natchez from Scott, Ark., he has been working day and night to get the four-floor mansion ready for its big debut — Fall Pilgrimage, Natchez’s annual tour of antebellum homes sponsored by the Natchez Garden Club and the Pilgrimage Garden Club.

Installing curtains imported from Paris and rewiring European chandeliers are just a few things Garner has recently checked off his to-do list.

“We started feverishly on the renovations right when we purchased it,” Garner said. “It was unexpected we would be on Fall Pilgrimage, but it’s good, it gave us a deadline to get the house ready.”

Garner comes off modest when speaking of the work he’s done to the impressive house, which was built in 1836 and features a blend of Greek revival and Federal styles.

One step through the doors, however, and the mansion appears ready to greet the thousands of tourists who visit Natchez for the annual tours.

The table setting in the formal dining room is already set, boasting a blend of family china.

“Thank goodness we didn’t have to purchase too many things, because most of it was from family,” Garner said. “This table reflects four complete collections of porcelain from seven generations.”

And while Garner admits getting the house Pilgrimage-ready has been a feat, he is seasoned in the field of getting a house prepared for tourists.

“This isn’t my first rodeo,” he said.

Garner most recently restored the Marlsgate Plantation in Scott, Ark.

With roots in Natchez, Garner said he always wanted to return to the bluff city, though.

“My business partner and I decided it would be nice to have a retreat in Natchez because we come down here for the tours all the time,” he said. “We looked at a couple of cottages at first, and I said, ‘You didn’t say anything about scaling down.’”

At first glance, Garner said he knew he wanted to restore Choctaw to its heyday beauty.

All furnishings are time-period sensitive, he said.

“A lot of avant-garde things had been done to the house previously,” he said. “It was way out of context, and we wanted to change that.”

One feature Garner said he is especially excited to showcase is the mansion’s elliptical staircase, which features an unbroken handrail and leads to the top floor — Garner’s “palm room.”

“At first I was going to make it into a ballroom, then I asked myself, ‘Lord, how many times am I going to have a party up here?’” Garner said with a laugh.

His second option for the cozy attic getaway was far from lackluster, though.

Garner plans to fill the house’s top floor with exotic plants for guests to admire.

Sun beaming in from the windows will be more than enough light for the plants, he said.

“I deplore going to a house where they won’t let you see everything,” he said. “We’re going to show all four floors here.”

And while the house appears immaculate in presentation, Garner points out it is still a home.

“People love to see a home where people really live, where the cats and dogs run through,” he said. “We really live here, and we love it.”

Fall Pilgrimage begins Sept. 25 and ends Oct. 12. For more information on the tours, visit natchezpilgrimage.com or call 601-446-6631.